Friday, November 30, 2007

Making stuff at the Fab Lab

About a month ago my classmate Alec Resnick told me about the MIT Center for Bits & Atoms (CBA) Fab Lab he works at in Back Bay. Yesterday we finally got to visit and we are hooked. You are looking at Miles' first creation.

He created it in a drawing program in Open Office and then "printed" it on a machine that used a laser to cut his design out of 1/4" thick plastic. Miles chose to use this thick white plastic from a wide selection of materials; he could just as easily have used some other material like wood, mirror or another color of plastic. There were a few little issues, but it turned out great for a first project. In addition to the ability to just make stuff, the atmosphere in the lab is really congenial and communal.

But the goal of the Fab Lab is much greater than to just let people like us make cool stuff, their goal is to bridge the fabrication divide. The fab lab concept and outreach is one of the most exciting things I've been exposed to at MIT, if you have a chance, watch this brief talk that Neil Gershenfeld, CBA Director, gave at TED about a year ago. When I viewed it, it took my breath away.

Fab labs have been opened in rural India, northern Norway, Ghana, Boston, South Africa, and Costa Rica. On the FabLabs site they list examples of what's happening at these labs:

  • Fab Lab partners are working on creating mesh wireless, ad hoc networks in the Lyngen Alps of Norway to allow shepherds to keep track of their flocks from afar, and to allow fishermen to keep track of their boats at sea.

  • At the Ghana Fab Lab, situated at the Takoradi Technical Institute, students are working on low-cost designs for mobile refrigeration and TV antennas.

  • In Pabal, India Fab Lab users are making replacement gears for out-of-date copying machines, reliable tools for testing milk content and for diagnostics on
    human blood.

  • At the Costa Rica Fab Lab young people are learning basic electronics and fabrication - by making functional objects with an array of sensors and actuators.

  • In Boston Fab Lab users make jewelry, toys and crafts using recycled materials from the community. The projects are picked by the community based on urgency of needs and/or group interests.

All the labs have the same equipment and capabilities so it is possible to share digital designs and fabricated solutions between labs, Forming a network of intellectual property and idea exchange.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving in New York

Several months ago Keith's brother Jeff suggested a Seinfeld Thanksgiving meet-up in NY. So on Wednesday afternoon, we packed up the van and headed for NYC with a million or so of our neighbors. Our hotel was located on the upper west side, just a few blocks from the Macy's Parade Balloon Inflation and the Parade route. Someone told us that you can view the inflation the night before the parade and avoid some of the insane crowds of the parade.

Below is a picture of the scene. Note to self: when someone imparts information like this, be sure to run a battery of tests to determine if their idea of a lite crowd matches yours.

Even though it was crowded, we were able to get a close look

Thanksgiving morning, we watched the parade from w-a-a-a-y back, but it was still exciting to be there in person. Lots of people bring ladders to sit on. It was a gorgeous sunny day and unseasonably warm at around 65 degrees! I couldn't hear any details about this silver bunny, but he looked cool.

Other highlights: Thanksgiving dinner with no dishes to clean and lots of time to catch up with everyone, Walk through Chinatown, Museum of Natural History, Shopping in Soho (Miles' faves were KidRobot and Evolution), a beautiful night-time driving tour of the city courtesy of Dianna (and Deb), H&H Bagels, Zabars, a meal at Artie's...

It was a fantastic time and we hope to be heading back soon.

Update: Forgot to mention my one celebrity sighting. I'm pretty sure I saw John Mayer at the Soho Starbucks on Saturday. I didn't mention it to anyone because noone I was with would have cared.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I must be reading the Indexed blog too much, because this is the first thing that ran through my head after an unpleasant encounter on the way home from my class the other night.

Well, it was the first thing after the shrieking and scurrying away into darkness.

Friday, November 16, 2007

We just refer to him as "the award-winning Keith Seinfeld"

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has just named their 2007 Science Journalism Award winners and Keith was the winner in the radio category for his "Electric Brain" series. I know I may be partial, but that series was really one of the most memorable things I ever heard on public radio.

About the awards (from their site):
Independent panels of science journalists chose the winners of the awards, which honor excellence in science reporting for print, radio, television and online categories. The awards, established in 1945, also include a prize for coverage of science news for children that is open to journalists worldwide...
Here is their blurb about Keith's series (from their site):
In a thematic series, Seinfeld of KPLU-FM in Seattle/Tacoma described the electrical properties of the human brain and how scientists are finding new ways to use those properties to treat diseases and injuries.

The judges were impressed by his clear, concise language and great use of sound in telling about important research in neuroscience. "While a drill whines in the background, cutting a hole in the top of a patient's skull, Keith Seinfeld carries his listeners into the story," said Jeff Nesmith, a Washington-based science writer for Cox Newspapers. "This kind of radio journalism seizes a listener's attention while it delivers an understandable account of complicated science."

David Baron, global development editor for Public Radio International's "The World" program, praised the "vividness of the writing, the clarity of the scientific explanations, the superb use of sound, the dramatic storytelling." He said Seinfeld's work "hangs together beautifully as a series, with each story building upon those that came before. Well conceived and brilliantly executed, 'The Electric Brain' is radio science journalism of the highest order."
The awards announcement is an interesting read because all of the journalism awarded is quite compelling.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Meet Ly, Fy, and Ry -- the Vimobot Revolution

Some facts about this trio (created by Miles):
  • Ly has an orange eye and controls electricity. He is is 2,000/1,000,000th of a second older than Ry.
  • Fy has a blue eye and controls heat. He is 2,000/1,000,000th of a second older than Ly.
  • Ry has a green eye and controls water. He is the youngest.
  • Their favorite food is raspberries. (note from Beth: I must talk with them about their diet, raspberries are very expensive this time of year!)
  • They live with Miles.
  • The reason behind their revolution is complicated. I'll update with more details as they become available.

Last week we bought these design-it-yourself Vimobots on clearance at Urban Outfitters($1.99). Miles went right to work with the Sharpies to create these cute little fellers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

After an improbable 5+ weeks standing... finally fell.

Miles decided to make a tall tower. We tried to tell him this design wasn't very stable. He proved us wrong. It was actually a demolition project that brought the structure down. During a playdate, giant plush microbes were strategically propelled at the tower until it finally fell.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Best nightmare ever

Tonight Miles described what he called his best nightmare ever.

"I dreamed I was being chased by a giant chocolate bar. The chocolate bar caught me and ate me up. Then I ate my way back out."

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A new obsession

I have to say I like this one MUCH more than Harry Potter. We bought a copy of this book today at ICA.

If you crossed a comic book with a kid-oriented version of Make magazine or maybe Bill Nye the Science Guy, you would have HowToons.

I'd seen the site before, but somehow wasn't aware of the book. Miles loves it and is already working his way through the various experiments/projects, the first of which was one-handed rubber-band shooting.

Sunday at the ICA

After a torrential downpour kept us home most of yesterday, we were anxious to get out of the house today. We treked over to the ICA in Boston and took in a few exhibitions. The art was great, but so are the uninterrupted water views through the immense glass walls, in some places it feels as though you are dangling over the water.

The National Design Triennial (organized by the Cooper-Hewitt) was a mix of stuff we've all seen (e.g.,Boeing 787) and more obscure work. I was most captured by the inkjet printed textiles of Hitoshi Ujiie. You have to see it in person to see the tremendous delicacy of the lines.

We also enjoyed the Louise Bourgeois exhibit, but it left me wanting more. She is 95 and still making art -- what a force! There's a good piece about her in the Guardian UK.

There was also some fantastic work in their regular gallery. I was really taken with a suspended sculture by Cornelia Parker entitled "Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson)".

This image doesn't really convey the power of the piece. The suspended black material is charred wood, the remains from the alleged arson of a workshop.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Nothing like talking to an old friend

Miles favorite part of today was talking with Sam on the phone and sharing key Pokemon strategies. Thanks to Julie for letting them have such extensive time on the phone.

Autumn Leaves

Friday after school we had found impressive stash of leaves just outside the MIT MediaLab. We had a fun time piling 'em up and running/jumping around in 'em.

Friday, November 2, 2007

This is what we would be doing if we were in Seattle...

Rosa's newest production is Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo". It has been a VERY ambitious undertaking as you can tell by viewing the trailer.

Rosa somehow always seems to make great choices and has a gift for making even the most esoteric material fresh and accessible. Way to go Rosa! Wish we could be there, it looks amazing!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Q&A with Miles

Me: When we move back to Seattle, what do you think you will miss most about Cambridge or Boston?
M: My friends and having fun with them.
Me: Anything else?
M: The low sales tax.

While not the answer I anticipated, I guess it's nice to see that buying power is at least second to friendship.